Wealth is more concentrated in the United States today than in any other time in its history. And that inequality creates political, social and economic consequences throughout North America. Large pools of wealth contribute to the flood of money into U.S. politics—particularly since the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court—skewing our political system in favor of the already privileged. Children are no longer likely to be better off financially than their parents. And as the purchasing power of most of the population erodes, full economic recovery from the recent recession becomes impossible. The imbalance of wealth is even more extreme when compared along racial lines. In short, social justice cannot be achieved when such a concentration of wealth exists in so few hands.
- The top 1 percent in the United States owns more than the other 90 percent combined.
- The wealthiest 10 percent of the population owns more than three quarters of the nation’s wealth.
- The median black household has less than ten cents for every dollar owned by the median white household.
- 20 percent of Americans—the bottom quintile—have 1.4 percent of our nation’s wealth, meaning they collectively have more debt than income or assets.
- The wealthiest 1 percent owns 225 times as much wealth as the median household—the highest ratio on record.
Source: Sylvia A Allegretto, “The State of Working America’s Wealth, 2011,” Economic Policy Institute March 2011
As the middle class become more and more vulnerable economically, congregations feel the effects. Most face financial challenges; congregational boards discuss money more than any other issue. An increasing number of our congregants face economic hardships and ask for reduced dues. In fact, surveys show that the number one reason for not joining a congregation is financial. Yet few congregations have created opportunities to talk about personal financial challenges in a safe and supportive environment. The problem is seen as deeply personal, not as part of a larger social trend. We can do better.
On the societal level, we live in a culture that has no answer to the question “How much is enough?” Everyone is encouraged to acquire as much wealth and as many possessions as possible. Most people live with internal messages such as “I want more”—which can drown out the deeper and more substantive issues of personal fulfillment. Judaism can offer alternatives to these corrosive messages and Reconstructionist communities can become vehicles for social change. In addition, Judaism has a rich tradition of texts and teachings that we can bring to the public conversation about this issue; that conversation currently lacks Jewish voices and is dominated by other faith traditions.
Read a blog post about heavenly manna and the wealth gap by Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, ’82. Kreimer is director of the Department Of Multifaith Studies And Initiatives at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and is a member of our Tikkun Olam Commission.